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3 February, 2011  ▪  Zhanna Bezpiatchuk

Can the Clock Be Set Back?

Hans-Georg Wieck, ex-chief of the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) speaks about the situation in Belarus, Germany’s dream of having a stable Russia, and advice he gave to Eduard Shevardnadze.

Mr. Wieck is nearly a legendary personality in his native Germany. He did a variety of different things in his career: from service in the German Ministry of Defense and diplomatic mission in the Soviet Union to heading the Federal Intelligence Service. His name still makes Alexander Lukashenko uneasy. The OSCE mission he headed in Belarus was expelled from the country in 2001. The Belarusian newspaper Sovetskaya Belorussia recently published the materials of an investigation into the activities of the Belarusian opposition which mention smiling Mr. Wieck, among others, as “an organizer of a network called ‘United Opposition.’” The Ukrainian Week has had an opportunity to talk to Mr. Wiek in person in Kyiv where he participated in the Security Forum.

Enemies have been identified

U.W.: You led the OSCE mission in Minsk for four years, in 1997-2001. What are the current events in Belarus to you: a logical continuation of those times, a relapse, or a surprise?

“The situation in Belarus is very serious. Accusations brought against Western secret services, primarily German and Polish ones, of preparing an insurgency are absolutely unjustified. The special services were not doing anything like this. Alexander Lukashenko did not really win the election and received very negative reactions from the world. Politicians representing various opposition parties and NGO activists gained wide support of the population. He retaliated, because they are a threat to his dictatorship. Mr. Lukashenko resorts to violence to restore the legitimacy of the government that has relied on force, rather than elections, since its early days. Belarusian oppositionists supported by free Europe and those who received help from Moscow are enemies of the regime in his eyes. To him, dictatorship comes before the state’s interests, which include restoring free access to the West, cooperation with Russia, and establishing legitimacy based on free democratic elections.”

U.W.: This looks like a failure of the EU policy, especially of the key EU players, and a failure of the intention to engage inn dialog with the Lukashenko regime. Do you agree?

“The EU has striven to include Lukashenko in the European political context. However, the European Union has suffered a setback — not because this was an erroneous policy, but because Mr. Lukashenko viewed the effects of this policy as a threat to his regime. The successful initiation of dialog with the West and the development of closer bilateral ties between the EU and Belarus accompanied by cooperation with civil society are inherently dangerous to him. In 2006, when the opposition succeeded in nominating one candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, things followed the same scenario. Mr. Lukashenko has turned the clock back, but he is unable to stop civil society which wants closer ties with the EU.”

Everyone's business

U.W.: How should such non-modernized and technologically backward country as Ukraine develop its operational resilience?

“In my opinion, protection against terrorism and inability to react to and cope with technological and natural disasters belong to the government’s tasks. However, when the country is in a transitional mode, a lot depends also on civil society and its willingness to raise issues which the government either fails to give enough attention to or simply ignores. Developing civil society initiatives is the only way to defend freedom in this cruel world. Academic institutions and the free press have to join this process.”

U.W.: Could you cite examples when civil society in Germany had a real impact on securing the state's operational resilience?

“There is a most lively debate now in Germany about integrating the Muslim population into German society. Civil society produces the greatest number of initiatives about possible ways to develop dialog between the two cultures. Here’s another example, one that pertains to Germany’s nuclear energy sector. The government abandoned the idea of upgrading nuclear power stations, because the issue of nuclear waste remains unresolved. A fierce public discussion took place. The solution of this issue will affect the energy prices and hence the economy’s competitiveness. If we abandon nuclear power engineering, prices may skyrocket, while our products will become less competitive. This was a hot topic in talk shows, the media and the government. And these are public discussions of a totally different nature — they run across the entire society rather than along party lines. Many people in the post-Soviet countries think that civil society is incapable of making any changes. This is not altogether so. Things that pertain to each person have to become the subject of public discussion.”

Between the EU and “new Russia

U.W.: Do you use the term “new Russia”? If so, what do you mean by it?

“A new kind of Russia emerged under Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. This is a more aggressive Russia. Until that point the influence of the West had been growing and Russia’s decreasing. And then we saw a Russia that said it had the right to interfere with the affairs of other countries in order to protect its own citizens. President Medvedev has taken it to a new level, and Russia has passed the relevant legislation. This is a Russia that pushes for the recognition of independent Abkhazia and South Ossetia despite U.N. resolution no. 1781 (November 2007) which confirmed Georgia’s territorial integrity, including the two self-proclaimed republics. This shows what Russia’s attitude to the neighboring countries is. And all of this is unacceptable from the viewpoint of the Charter of Paris for a New Europe (November 1990), which was signed both by the Soviet Union and by its legal successor Russia.

 

"NATO members are concerned about Germany's close ties with Russia.The foundation for these ties lies in Russia's needs to upgrade its industry in order to achieve true competitiveness. Germany plans to participate in the modernization and is prepared to contribute technology and innovations which Russia is lacking, but it runs into a serious obstacle on this path: this country, Russia, does not have independent NEIGHBORS - це слово треба замінити на COURTS. Direct investments are impossible in such conditions. We are interested in a stable and, hopefully, democratic Russia that would be a more secure state focused on its own development."

 

U.W.: Is Germany prepared to invest its financial resources in the Russian economy?

“It is indeed, but in the form of loans rather than grants. In fact, it is not about financing or technology. Rather, it is about a stable, corruption-free, rule-of-law state which we would like to see in the future.”

U.W.: What is your opinion about the idea of having a common security space from Vancouver to Vladivostok which was suggest by Russia and repeated by Viktor Yanukovych?

“Common values are the defining factors in this case. The problem is that such a system of common values does not exist between Russia and NATO or EU countries, which causes Western states to doubt the legitimacy of a security system in which everyone can veto decisions made by any member state. This kind of a security architecture will weaken the ability of NATO and the EU to make their own, independent decisions.”

U.W.: There is much talk about the weaknesses and problems experienced by the EU. What would you call its strongest point?

“There is much talk now about a lack of EU presence in the world. This is not true. The EU remains the biggest trade partner of all other regions of the world. The main thing is that technology that is being produced in the EU territory is competitive across the world. Why don’t we have any reservations about exporting it to China? The reason is that we are confident that the day after tomorrow we will have new and even better technology. Technological progress used to be initiated by the defense industry. Now technology in the EU has different origins and goals —it meets market challenges, is environment-oriented, works against climate change, and provides equal opportunities to all members of society.”

U.W.: You worked as an advisor to Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze in 1993–1995. Those were very difficult times. What kind of advice did you give him?

“As the Soviet foreign minister, Mr. Shevardnadze promoted German unity, not because he loved Germans so much, but because he understood that this was in the interests of the USSR. The Cold War was coming to an end. The Soviet Union was in need of major economic reforms. The prophesy of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin about the inevitable collapse of capitalism was not coming true. The capitalist system, unlike the communist one, turned out to be able to adapt and change. The industrial and financial potential of a united Germany could be helpful to the USSR in carrying out reforms. And then the Soviet Union broke up.

“In 1993, I worked as an adviser to Mr. Shevardnadze, who was then the leader of independent Georgia. This was an interesting time. I could sit in my hotel room in Tbilisi and hear gunshots out of the street. At the time, I told Mr. Shevardnadze that he needed to initiate a discussion with all political forces and engage in a dialog with them, rather than just with the parliament majority he controlled.”

 

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

 

Hans-Georg Wieck

Mr. Wieck was born on 28 March 1928 in Hamburg. In 1947–1952, he studied history, philosophy and public law at the University of Hamburg, earning his PhD there in 1953. In 1954–1993, he served in the Foreign Office, except for the period from 1966 to 1974 when he was in the defense ministry and 1985–1990 when he headed the Germany Federal Intelligence Service. In 1993–1995, Mr. Wieck was an adviser to George leader Eduard Shevardnadze, and in 1997–2001, he headed the OSCE monitoring mission in MinskBelarus.

 


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